Values to work by

One of the fun parts of setting up a new business again has been re-thinking what I am looking for in my next adventure. I choose the word “adventure” carefully: past experience tells me it won’t just be a “venture”.

My recent working history has been a little chequered. Onside Analysis was fun. We worked hard, as a team, with a shared (but frequently shifting) goal. Like any start-up team we didn’t always get it right, but we were learning and at the time that we sold, we had a real positivity around the business. We were definitely moving in the right direction.

For a whole array of reasons, the tie up didn’t work out as I had hoped. Or probably as anyone had hoped. But as with all things that don’t work out, I learned a lot more about myself from that period than from more successful times. Those lessons are private, however, and benefit no-one by airing in public.

Most recently, my role at CricViz, which will significantly reduce from September, has been great too. The people I have worked with have been fantastic and have taught me skills that increased my network significantly. But, from the start, the pull of starting out again meant it was never something I could commit to longer term.

Having decided to build a company from scratch again, I naturally want to do it better. And key to doing things better has been to take some time and space to think things through clearly. The results of that thinking are numerous. I focused on what I would do, although there are no radical surprises there, me being too late to push the pro-football career and not ready yet to sell up and sell coffee on a beach in Cornwall. I also thought about who I would want to join me on that journey and am delighted with how that has worked out.

But beyond these practical considerations, perhaps the most important thing to come out of that thinking exercise was a set of values. A set of values that I want to define the way I work and the way that I hope our company will operate.

Here is my manifesto:

  • Hypothesise. Experiment. Learn. Iterate.
  • Make decisions. Where possible use data.
  • Simpler is nearly always better. Clearer is best.
  • Aim for excellence not perfection. Accept good enough.
  • Finish half rather than half-finish. Remember Pareto.
  • Care. Not too much. It will matter less tomorrow.
  • Not tested is not done. Over-testing is overfitting.
  • Behind most things are people. Respect them.
  • Trust underlies everything. Be transparent and open.
  • Achieve as a team. Empower each other.
  • Share honest feedback thoughtfully. Improve.
  • Listen. Pause before replying. Don’t escalate.
  • Value time. Live life beyond work.
  • Experience. Exercise. Love. Laugh. Sleep.

Some of the items on this list may be atypical of many start-ups. Some of these values extend beyond work. In our culture, unless we resist it, work can become all-consuming. In my opinion it is important to remind each other that while work might be important, there is much more to life besides. Life away from work must be lived.

From my experience, and the plethora of articles advocating the route to investor-based start-up success, the companies that are aiming for the stars might have values that differ significantly. On the other hand, companies like Basecamp (I recommend following Jason Fried and DHH) have been inspirational in teaching me that start-up success doesn’t need to come at the expense of personal values.

So I’ll stick by my values and build a company around people who share these values. Because these will be our values, and need not be anyone else’s. We are on our journey, no-one else’s.